Saturday, July 14, 2012

DIY Roasted Red Peppers

As a professional knitter I spend a lot of time sitting, knitting, and if my three children are asleep that means the television is on. Because I am a work-at-home-mom running a business by myself, raising three small children, homeschooling a kindergartner and special-needs preschooler(while simultaneously entertaining a toddler), doing my best to grow my own produce and make every bit of our food from scratch, on a tight budget, and preservative-free, I don't have time or brain power at the end of the day to make an effort to keep up with a series with any type of a story line. That leaves me with three choices: Food Network, Cooking Channel, or National Geographic. Let's be honest- at the end of the day the last thing I want to do is wrack my brain with further tension and becoming upset over Whale Wars or Animal Cops, or frightened by a new, mutating species of bug, or the massive snakes being set loose in the Florida Everglades by irresponsible pet-owners when the vermin are too large for cages and how they're now migrating North. So there it is: food wins.
During my hours of foody-tv I have actually learned A LOT! New techniques, ingredients, ways to do gourmet at home, and just all around shown me things to try in the kitchen that I'd never thought I could. So while I can't climb on board the Sea Shepherd and scourge the Asian whale market or wrestle an albino boa in the Florida Keys, I have been introduced to the world of things like quinoa, jicama, and poaching meats. 
Oh, and roasted red peppers. I am not a pepper-lover, per se, but I don't mind them either cooked or raw. It had never occurred to me, though, that roasting the pepper would bring out any other flavor or texture than I'd ever had from a pepper. Then one day I went to Panera. The panini I had was delicious, and there was this one ingredient in it that I just couldn't pin-point the flavor of, but it was the key to deliciousness in that sandwich. I grabbed a to-go menu and read the description while making sure cream-cheesey finger-smears on the table and booth were kept to a minimum, and cinnamon crunch bagels were eaten in bites, not stuffed whole into little mouths(mmmm, crunchy, crystaline sweetness on top of fluffy, chewy, bagel goodness!). That's when roasted red peppers jumped out at me. That had to be it. I hadn't even realized I was eating peppers, but that was the only mystery in my sandwich. Every shopping trim after that, a jar of roasted red peppers was added to my cart and I put them in everything imaginable- pasta, quesadillas, omelettes, pizza, panini- you name it. YUM! 
One evening I sat on the couch knitting a tiny Schl├╝ttli with a silk-blend yarn, the bliss of sleeping children floating down the stairs, and watched to my amazement as Alex Guarnaschelli made a pasta dish with roasted red pepper sauce. And she roasted her own peppers. What? You mean I can do this MYSELF?! I make my own bread, yogurt, tortillas, salsa, sauces, roux, grow my produce, sew and knit my kids' clothes- AND NOW YOU'RE TELLING ME I CAN ROAST MY OWN PEPPERS?! This may seem ridiculous to some, but I. Was. Thrilled. THRILLED. This was new to me. I didn't know if they'd taste as delicious as the accouterments I'd come to crave in nearly every meal, but I was going to do it myself
The next shopping trip I left the 12-ounce jar of store-brand roasted red peppers that cost $3.49 on the shelf and instead spent $1.99 on six beautiful, fresh red bell peppers. As soon as the groceries were put away, I did exactly as Alex Guarnaschelli. And now I'm going to show you. 

First, rinse the peppers and put them on a clean, dry  baking sheet and turned the top broiler on the oven.

Then move the top rack down one. You don't want the peppers touching the broiler itself and the skin can bubble as it heats, so make sure it's low enough that this doesn't happen.

Close the oven and let the peppers roast for 3-4 minutes, or until the skin  is turning orange and has blackened in spots. Don't worry! This is just the skin burning. The flesh underneath is roasting, not burning. Using tongs, turn each pepper and allow them to roast until every side is orange and blackened. 

Pull the peppers out of the oven(don't forget to turn off the broiler! If your house is a constant dull roar of tiffs, fits, and sword fights like mine, you need this reminder) and immediately put them in a large glass (plastic works in a pinch, too) bowl and cover it with plastic wrap, pulling tight and ensuring it's sealed, then put the bowl in the refrigerator. This needs to be done quickly because the super-hot peppers will immediately begin to heat and melt the plastic wrap if you're not quick. 

Let the peppers rest for AT LEAST 30 minutes, but a full hour is better when the peppers have completely cooled. Once cooled, take the plastic wrap off, pour the extra liquid out of the bowl,  and one by one peal and seed the peppers. The peals will slip right off with less effort than a hard-boiled egged, and if you slice the pepper open the seeds pretty much slide right out with t pepper's inner membrane. 
That's it! You can leave them whole, halved, slice them into strips, or dice them- whatever is easiest for you in future meal prep(I prefer strips). You can do one pepper for the actual meal you're making, or you can do a huge batch of 6-8 at a time like I do, and keep them in 1-quart storage container in the fridge. They keep nicely for 2 or so weeks, and now YOU can have people wondering what that delicious mystery ingredient in your cooking is. 

The verdict: They taste EXACTLY like the store-bought canned roasted red peppers, and they cost half the price for twice as much- not to mention they're preservative-free! 

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